Crime biggest threat to agriculture after drought: AgriSA

07 June 2018 - 18:46 By Nico Gous
A maizefield farm. File photo
A maizefield farm. File photo
Image: Thinkstock Images

Crime is the biggest threat to sustainable agriculture in South Africa apart from drought and is contributing to farmers leaving the industry.

That is what agricultural industry body AgriSA wrote in their Farm Safety Report for June this year‚ which was released on Thursday.

AgriSA wrote in a report in May that farm murders were at their lowest in the last 19 years. In the report they used the police crime statistics that showed 47 people were murdered on farms in 2017/18 and there were 561 farm attacks.

The year with the highest recorded number of farm murders was 1997/98 when 153 people were murdered. The number of recent farm attacks has almost halved from the highest recorded number of attacks in a single year which was 1‚069 in 2001/02.

AgriSA president Dan Kriek said in the report that the decrease in farm attacks could be due to increased awareness about safety among farmers and workers as well as increased cooperation between police and local safety structures.

“The decrease over 19 years in farm attacks and murders‚ the levels of attacks and murders‚ and the coinciding brutality are still unacceptably high.”

Kriek said they were worried about the increase in farm attacks in the past two years. He believes it shows there is “a definite threat to the agricultural community”.

The report contains a focus on KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State.

KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union (Kwanalu) CEO Sandy La Marque said they had established a security desk to gather data on these attacks and murders.

It showed that farm murders had decreased from seven to six in the province from 2016 to 2017 and farm attacks had increased from 27 to 29 in the same period. The highest number of farm attacks and murders recorded since 2001 was in 2002 when there were 18 murders and 95 attacks.

According to La Marque everyone is a potential target no matter one’s race or where one lives.

“The rural nature of farms‚ where the nearest neighbour is generally some distance away‚ does make farmers more vulnerable to attack.”

In analysing evidence and reviewing court testimonies Kwanalu found that most attacks are driven by socio-economic circumstances that lead to opportunistic crimes.

“The level of violence associated with farm attacks only adds to the shock‚ but it is imperative that people refrain from making or supporting inflammatory comments and statements inciting hatred and fuelling racial tension‚” La Marque said.

Free State Agriculture (FSA) Security risk analyst Dr Jane Buys found that criminals gained information from workers or former employees prior to farm attacks and could possibly be linked to syndicates.

“In some of the incidents the suspicious vehicle that transported the attackers was spotted a day before the attack by some farmers in the area. In a lot of cases specific details as to where safes are being located that harbour firearms‚ cash and valuable items are known to attackers.”

Earlier civil rights organisation AfriForum disputed AgriSA’s numbers.

AfriForum head of community safety Ian Cameron said their statistics showed there had been an increase in murders on farms and farm attacks over the past four years.

“To say that the numbers are low or even the lowest in two decades is a misrepresentation that is being offered to the public.”

He said that there had already been almost 200 attacks in 2018.

AgriSA defended their numbers and said it had been collected from information that the police had presented in Parliament‚ input from security experts within AgriSA and cooperation with the police at grassroots level.